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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How To Create a High Quality Mail List

We've talked about how to get your email delivered to the inbox of those who are on your mail list. In future blogs, we'll discuss design and technical issues that can help or hinder the conversion of a delivered email to a sale.

For now, let's step back a bit and discuss how to gather the list ... and how NOT to gather it. The real objective is to gather a quality list of email addresses, which means that more of your email will reach the inbox ... and that more of the users will be glad to see your email when it is delivered. This, in turn, translates to more sales!

The avoidance of spam is at the heart of most of the roadblocks to reaching an inbox, so let's define exactly what we mean by spam:

Spam is email that is both Unsolicited and Bulk Email (UBE). Bulk email is simply email that is sent to many recipients at once, though portions of the message might be customized for each receiver. Spam is sometimes also called Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE). Spam is NOT about the content ... it is about the consent!

There are several options for acquiring a mail list and the different approaches produce different levels of list quality. Here are the four methods, shown in order of best quality to worst:

  • Confirmed opt-in (COI) - With confirmed opt-in, the subscriber must take active steps twice, to become a subscriber: The first when signing up and the second, when replying to an email or clicking an activation link in an email.

  • Unconfirmed Opt-in - With this approach, a new subscriber to a mail list will get a confirmation email. No further action is needed by the subscriber unless they have changed their mind and don't want to subscribe. In that case, they must take some action to unsubscribe.

  • Opt-out - New subscribers are automatically added and they must take some action, to be removed from the list.

  • Purchase a list - Buying a mail list is NEVER a good idea!

Now, let's further discuss each of these four methods for subscribing email addresses.

Confirmed Opt-in (COI)
This method is also sometimes called confirmed subscription, closed-loop opt-in, or double opt-in. But, watch out, because spammers have twisted the term double opt-in to make their UBE seem to be legitimate email. COI provides a verification, that it was really them who signed up. This is the best practice for responsible Internet mailing lists, because it ensures users are properly subscribed, from a working address, and with the address owner's consent.

Unconfirmed Opt-in
This approach is also called single opt-in or simply opt-in. Again, however, spammers have corrupted this term to be any address on their list. Some marketers contend that confirmed opt-in is like asking for permission twice and that it constitutes unnecessary interference with someone who has already said they want to hear from the marketer. However, if an opt-in request is unconfirmed, then it cannot be verified and if it cannot be verified then a bulk email sender can just say that someone opted-in. This is why unconfirmed opt-in lists are sometimes referred to as "dirty lists" in the respectable bulk email industry.

Opt-out
Instead of giving people the option to be put in the list, they are automatically subscribed and must take some action, to be removed from the list. By definition, this is Unsolicited Bulk Email or "Spam". It's surprising, in light of this, that a recent study found 31% of companies added customers to their email lists following a purchase, without requesting permission.

So, What's Wrong with Buying a Mail List?
Never buy a list from someone on the Internet ... not even if it is supposedly permission-based ... because it can't be! The users on the list may have opted-in to some mail list, but certainly not to yours. There is a high probability that someone receiving an email from someone who purchased a list will hit the spam complaint button. Since spam complaints bear so much weight in decisions to forward your email or not, purchased lists are always a bad idea.

Quality Mail Lists Are Worth More!
There is a clear correlation between a properly gathered and maintained mail list and a higher percentage of email deliveries that convert to sales. Although the best quality mail lists are typically smaller, they result in more sales.

Don't forget that a mail list must be continually maintained, to keep only those who want to remain on the list. And, like dead branches on a tree, dead email addresses must also be regularly pruned.

Although AllWebEmail.com won't provide you with an email list, they will make it easy for you to manage one. See http://www.allwebemail.com/delivery.html.

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